Beverley v. Rennolds

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Beverley v. Rennolds, Wythe 121 (1791),[1] was a case discussing whether a court of equity could nullify an arbitrator's award based on a void contract.


Beverley had a gambling problem. When he was underage, he agreed to sell his land, worth £400, to Hipkins for £40-50 of tobacco and currency. When Beverley reached majority age, he refused to abide by the contract's terms, instead offering to repay Hipkins the money Hipkins had given him. Hipkins wanted the land, and convinced Beverley, against the advice of Beverley's friends, to refer the matter to arbitrators. The arbitrators awarded Hipkins £300, and Rennolds, acting as the executor of Hipkins's estate, got a judgment against Beverley based on the arbitrators' award. Beverley filed suit in the High Court of Chancery to stay the execution of Rennolds's judgment.

The Court's Decision

The High Court of Chancery stated that Beverley's and Hipkins's agreement was created under circumstances that would have rendered it void, regardless of Beverley's infancy at the time. Since the contract was void, Beverley committed no harm by failing to heed its terms, and any award against Beverley based on the contract would be illegal. Since the award was illegal, the HCC concluded, Beverley properly sought an injunction against it in equity, and the HCC perpetually enjoined the arbitrators' award. The HCC also noted that the arbitrators' award was so out of proportion from the possible harm that a court of equity could conclude from that fact alone that the arbitrators acted improperly and that the arbitrators' award should be enjoined.

Wythe uses one of Cicero's oratories to illustrate Hipkins's chutzpah by comparing Hipkin's demand to Fimbria's.[2] According to Cicero, Fimbria tried to kill Scaevola, but was only able to wound him. Fimbria then proceeded to file a complaint against Scaevola; when the judges asked Fimbria what possible complaint he could have against Scaevola, Fimbria said that Scaevola did not take the entire weapon into his body.

Works Cited or Referenced by Wythe

Cicero's Pro Roscio Amerino

Quotation in Wythe's opinion:

...and being required to state the cause of his complaint against Scaevola, answered quod non totum telum corpore recepisset. Cic. ora. pro S. Roscio Amer. Translation: because he did not receive the whole weapon into his body. Wythe here references Cicero’s invocation of the story of C. Flavius Fimbria, who having wounded Scaevola, discovered that his wounds would not be mortal. Fimbria, a madman, sought to prosecute Scaevola for surviving and not allowing the weapon to kill him.[3]


  1. George Wythe, Decisions of Cases in Virginia by the High Court of Chancery with Remarks upon Decrees by the Court of Appeals, Reversing Some of Those Decisions, 2nd ed., ed. B.B. Minor (Richmond: J.W. Randolph, 1852): 121.
  2. Wythe 122, citing Cic. orat. pro S. Roscio Amer.
  3. Wythe 122.